Semi-Retiring Boomers: Would You Spend 20% of Your Time as a Mentor?

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This topic contains 11 replies, has 6 voices, and was last updated by  Mark Hammer 8 years, 3 months ago.

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  • #156100

    Each week, GovLoop teams up with the Washington Post to ask a “Federal Worker Question.” This week’s question is:

    Semi-Retiring Boomers: Would You Spend 20% of Your Time as a Mentor?

    Congress is considering allowing federal employees to phase into retirement by drawing a partial annuity while working part time. Here’s some specific language from the hiring reform proposal:

    …allow Federal employees covered by the Civil Service Retirement System or the Federal Employees’ Retirement System to enter a gradual, or phased, retirement status at the end of their careers, under certain circumstances. This authority, in essence, would permit an individual to reduce his or her work schedule as the employee approaches retirement and receive income from a combination of salary and retirement benefits. This new authority would be subject to a requirement that part of the individual’s time would have to be spent mentoring other employees...

    So what do you think?

    If you’re a Boomer, would you take this phased retirement option?

    For others who would be mentored, do you like this idea?

    Want to dip your toes in the water and make a 4-month commitment to mentoring as a test? Sign up for the GovLoop Mentors program!

    Click here to learn a bit more about the results of our pilot program.

  • #156122

    Mark Hammer

    For years, I have adopted the stance that turnover and retention are not the problems people in HR and management perceive them to be so long as the people who remain know everything the departing employees know. In the absence of any sort of effective knowledge-transfer infrastructure, turnover IS a problem. Waiting until a soon-to-retire employee is 3 months from walking out the door is too late, and simply handing over gigs of files and boxes of papers to their replacement is no substitute from porting the perspective and understanding of employee A to employee B. There is always a paper or electronic trail of what decisions were made, but there is rarely any tangible evidence of how priorities were weighed and decisions reached, and that’s a very important part of what the departing employee takes with them. It’s also an important aspect of staff development for future leadership roles.

    I published a paper a decade back on intergenerational “wisdom transfer” within government. I forget whether I mentioned it in the paper or only in conversations afterward, but the formal requirement for senior public servants to allocate a fixed percentage of their time to knowledge transfer, in tangible ways, as a part of their performance agreement, is really the only viable strategy to pursue. There are so many distractions at senior levels that, unless knowledge-transfer becomes formalized as a part of the job, it will slip to the bottom of the stack despite the very best of intentions.

    I don’t know if 20% is practical, and wonder whether a percentage so high risks confining it to too brief a period to be effective or adopted as “how we do things here”. But certainly something between 5 and 10% is not unreasonable, assuming people start early enough. And it doesn’t have to be one-on-one mentoring. It can happen in the form of things like “The toughest decisions I ever had to make on the job” brown bag Friday lunches.

  • #156120
  • #156118

    Steve Ressler

    Good ideas – I like the “toughest decisions I ever had to make on the job” concept

    I like how the law may make it a requirement. The problem I see with “wisdom transfer” is that it’s a “nice to have” that is often forgotten when people get busy

  • #156116

    Chris Cairns

    I like the idea, but it’s all a matter of how it’s executed. To busy to impart wisdom is definitely one obstacle. I also wonder whether or not some positions could actually be managed in a part-time fashion.

    The interesting thing here is how do you actually identify which personnel should be targeted as mentors. Certainly the knowledge capital is more valued in some people than others. There’s an emerging technology that helps to identify (human) nodes in the knowledge network. I’m not how mature it is…

  • #156114

    Mark Hammer

    how do you actually identify which personnel should be targeted as mentors?

    That was one of the very questions I raised in the paper I mentioned earlier. They’re not ALL keepers, and it is of strategic importance to identify those with something of value to offer, while giving the others something other than a cold shoulder. There is a dance of etiquette to do on top of the task of identifying where the social capital lies..

    I know there is certainly considerable motivation on the part of many. A survey of Canadian federal executives about 8 years ago or so asked whether they would consider staying on longer if they could exercise a kind of “stewardship for the future” role, and a refreshing percentage gave an emphatic “Yes”.

    But like you so aptly note, it is one thing to be motivated, another to have something of value to contribute, and quite another to have the time to do it. That’s why I like the formal required time commitment. It’s also why I am skittish about a number as big as 20%. In a perfect world, 20% allotted to knowledge/wisdom transfer would be a wonderful thing. But it’s not a perfect world, and the danger is that the other 80% will result in pressure to figure out ways to pad a reasonable 5-8% up so that it looks like 20% on paper. Personally, I think the only thing we can afford less than a lack of knowledge-transfer infrastructure is pretend knowledge transfer, and whatever cynicism it could create for the entire enterprise of knowledge transfer. If it’s going to accomplish anything, and become entrenched as “how we do things around here”, it has to have perceived value for both the recipients and the donors. Can’t afford to cheapen it by flooding the market with fakes.

  • #156112

    Chris Cairns

    That’s some good stuff, Mark. You’ve obviously thought a lot about the nuances of such a program. I really like the idea of a required time commitment. The more that I think about this issue, it could actually be beneficial from a productivity standpoint. Sure, it takes you away from directly performing your core function; however, the act of educating someone else on how to perform the function requires a different mental model (sort of like writing vs speaking) that could spark revelations on how to accomplish the work in more innovative or productive ways. Apprentice feedback could serve as a spark as well. Old wise man of mine once told me that unless you can teach your craft, you really don’t understand what you’re doing.

  • #156110

    Mark Hammer

    And quite often it works the other way, too: you don’t really have the big picture about what you know, and know how to do, until you have to teach it to somebody. All the more reason to implement such formal and informal knowledge transfer well before people reach retirement eligibility. Why shouldn’t the public service have the benefit of senior employees whose insight into their role and how it all works is hiked up a notch by mentoring and active knowledge transfer? Sure as shooting doesn’t do us much good if they gain all that insight after they leave.

    And thanks for the nod. Much appreciated.

  • #156108

    Daniel Mintz

    I have two questions.

    First, I wonder if the largest hurdle is really with the mentor side. For me at least if I had decided when I might want to retire (my wife has indicated she does NOT want me around the house so that option is closed off at this point), being able to spend part of that time mentoring others would be a no brainer.

    However, when those people want the help? Or want the help from me? Or would they even have the time to get the help? All of these would be non-trivial questions to answer.

    Second, as a minor point, for senior people their days are typically not normal days with standard times to start and stop. Changing responsibilities for them from full- to part- will take some planning. Having the old boss AND the new boss around has its own set of challenges.

    – Dan

  • #156106


    I like the idea of retiring and then staying part-time to help train my replacement. Unfortunately most people think it’s a given that they will already be trained beforehand, but my experience is that it is all talk and that someone who is already overburdened will get the responsibility at the last minute. Maybe there should be a test involved and management gets demerits if the replacement can’t pass the test 🙂

  • #156104

    Hey Dan – I think the next generation of government leaders are hungry to learn from their predecessors – not so much as a “how have you done things?” as I think they want to innovate and try new ways (or take another crack at better accomplishing an old method). They want support more in “how do I manage the bureaucracy (political savvy)? how do I move up fast? who do I need to know to get ahead” vs. technical skills…at least that’s what we’re seeing from the GovLoop Mentors Program.

  • #156102

    This is an interesting idea, Marilyn. A competency test. Some kind of simulation. And it’s a performance element for both the mentor and mentee.

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